Saturday, March 31, 2012

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Erg. I hate it when scheduled posts don't publish for some reason. My Clarissa post was supposed to go up last night, but for some reason it didn't, so you get two posts from me today instead. I just finished up my eighth book for Adam's Magical March, which I thoroughly enjoyed! I managed to get eight fantasy/science fiction books off my shelves and I've started in on a ninth but since it's 947 pages I don't think I'll finish it today since I'm on page 71. :)

Today's book also counts for the March prompt for November's Autumn's A Classics Challenge. This month's questions are about setting:

Level 1
How has the author introduced the setting? What does it tell you about the character? about the time period? What is the mood of the setting?

Level 2
How do you envision it? Find a few images or describe it. Do you feel the setting is right? or was it a weak point of the author?

Level 3
If this particular setting was changed how would it affect the course of the story?
Setting is an excellent aspect to talk about regarding this classic: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It's all about setting! The book takes place under the sea, obviously, and on board the Nautilus. In thinking about it, I think the setting was also the weakness. I expected magical descriptions of the sea and the creatures in it, but we mostly got scientific information and descriptions of the Nautilus. I expected to feel like I was along for the journey, but I never did. I felt very disconnected and struggled with being able to really visualize the story. I felt sort of like Verne wrote an outline for a story and then half-heartedly filled it in, but didn't go in and put the passion and details and characterization to make this truly a great story. It's not a bad book, but it left me disappointed.

However, I did enjoy reading about the first time our narrator and his companions walk on the sea floor: "The light, which lit the soil thirty feet below the surface of the ocean, astonished me by its power. The solar rays shone through the watery mass easily, and dissipated all colour, and I clearly distinguished objects at a distance of a hundred and fifty yards. Beyond that the tints darkened into fine gradations of ultramarine, and faded into vague obscurity....It was marvellous, a feast for the eyes, this complication of coloured tints, a perfect kaleidoscope of green, yellow, orange, violet, indigo, and blue; in one word, the whole palette of an enthusiastic colourist!"
This section has more vivid descriptions than a lot of the rest of the book, and also sets up M. Aronnax (our narrator) for wanting to continue his journey with the Nautilus, not that he has much of a choice. He sees the chance to explore the world in a way no one else has and be able to improve his studies and scholarly writings. It makes you understand why he's not as desperate as Ned Land is to get off the boat. I identified more with Mr. Land myself. :)

I had higher hopes for this one, but maybe that's because I know it's loved by many, and maybe my hopes were too high. I found it simply to be okay, and it doesn't make me excited to read the rest of Verne's works, although perhaps his non-sea voyages may be more enjoyable. I own Around the World in 18 Days, so I will give that one a shot at some point.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Clarissa: March Letters

Wow, Clarissa has gotten repeitive! There were a lot more letters to read this month than the last two months, but they all said the same thing. Here's a summary:

Clarissa: Woe is me! My family is forcing me to marry Mr. Solmes. I won't! I won't!
Miss Howe: Your family sucks.
Clarissa's family: You must marry Mr. Solmes! You are a terrible, horrible person because you refuse to marry an old man you don't like! It must be because of Mr. Lovelace, who is evil incarnate!
Clarissa: But I don't even like Mr. Lovelace (although he's not that bad and I keep writing him). But I won't marry Mr. Solmes, I won't!
Miss Howe: Your family still sucks.

So, yeah. I'm not really enjoying this one. I feel like I'm only reading it because I would feel a sense of accomplishment at having read what is probably the longest English language novel. But do I really want to read one million words of this???? I've made it just slightly further than where I stopped last time, hoping it would pick up, but no such luck yet. Maybe I should forget the year-long event hosted by Terri at Tip of the Iceberg and JoAnn at Lakeside Musing and try the readalong Allie and Jillian and some others are doing in April and just power through. Or perhaps I should just call it quits? Why am I making myself read this? I didn't even like Pamela, one of Richardson's other unecessarily long works.

However, I know a BIG event is coming at some point. I think it might actually make me dislike the novel more, or at least the characters, but at least I know something is coming. But, what if I have to slog through 1450 pages before that happens?

On the positive side, here are two lessons I've learned from this book so far.
  1. I'm extremely thankful to have been born at a time when I'm free to choose who I marry. I love my parents and respect their opinions, but they in no way had control over who (or if) I married.
  2. Whining is annoying. And boring. Note to self: think of Clarissa when you start to complain, then stop complaining!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


One of my goals this year is to read through some of the Greek and Roman works I have in my Great Books set that I haven't read it. I seem to have gotten stuck in the plays. My plan was just to read a couple and then move on to non-fiction, but I marked all of the plays I haven't read yet with sticky tabs and now they are taunting me, so it looks like I'm my new goal is to finish reading the plays of Euripides and Aristophanes! Fortunately, this still works for Jean's Greek Classics Challenge. I do hope to still read a few other Greek works as well.

Oddly enough, Helen really could count toward Magical March as well, although I'm not sure plays count. Like a lot of Greek plays, there are gods involved and they do work a bit of magic. The premise of this story is that the Helen of the Trojan War didn't really run off with Paris. Hera kidnapped the real Helen and locked her away, and created a fake Helen that went with Paris. So the whole massive, brutal Trojan War was fought over a fake woman. That was both frustrating and chuckle inducing. I wonder what they people at the time thought of this take on the story? It's kind of funny, and shows how pointless the war was, but I wonder how well that went over.

Anyway, in the story, the real Helen has been trapped for 17 years!!! Hera doesn't sound like the most pleasant god, does she? Helen is in the same situation Penelope is in - she's having to fend off suitors as her husband Menelaus is presumed dead and even if he's not, he's off chasing the fake Helen so the real Helen should be free to marry. The primary suitor is Theoclymenus, who decides he's going to force Helen to marry him, and he has the power to pull this off. At the same time, Menelaus shows up and finds the real Helen, but can't be seen by Theo. Does he believe real Helen's tale? Will he be able to rescue her? What will Theo do? Is Theo's sister Theonoe - who knows everything that goes on and whose help is necessary if Menelaus and Helen want to escape - a friend or foe? Check out Helen by Euripides to find out! :)

This play is easier to understand and follow than some of the Greek plays, maybe because I'm fairly familiar with the Trojan War so most of the characters were familiar and I wasn't having to work to keep them straight. It's a fun twist on an old story, even if it's almost as old itself!

In other news, I'm working my way through 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (which isn't terrible, but isn't enthralling me either) and I jumped right in to Dragonfly in Amber, which is definitely enthralling! I feel bad for my mixed review of Outlander - I don't think I gave it enough credit for telling a great story. I'm also trying very hard to finish out CB's TBR Challenge - I had to go to the library today because I had a reserve come in. I went ahead and checked out a few more books to save a trip, but I CANNOT touch them until Sunday. Actually, I've told myself I can't finish them until the stack of books I'm already in the middle of are cleared off my table, so I have quite a bit of reading to do! I am going to try to catch up on some blog reading and commenting tonight though. I've been so busy with work lately that I haven't wanted to spend much time with the computer in the evenings and I'm way behind on making the rounds and miss the interaction.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Outlander is one of those novels I've heard a lot about from other bloggers. Some people love it, some people hate it, and a lot of people liked it but noted that it's really more of a romance series than a fantasy series. I'm really glad I had heard that going in, or I think I would have disliked it. I would have kept waiting for the fantasy part to kick in more, but it's really just the time travel element that makes this a fantasy - it does read more like a historical romance. I somehow seemed to both love and hate it - the fact that I'm anxious to read the next book in the series tells me I must have landed more on the love side!

I think one of the reasons I liked this book was the idea of suddenly traveling back in time. What would it be like to suddenly be 200 years in the past? What would you do? How would you survive? Claire does things she wouldn't normally do, but she has to adjust quickly to life in the mid-1700s Scotland or be killed. The descriptions of Scotland are wonderful - they definitely made me want to move up Scotland and my travel wishlist. Something in the storytelling kept me flipping the pages, which was good since this clocks in at over 800 pages!

On the negative side, it was hard to read some of the scenes or judge characters by today's standards instead of the standards of two centuries ago. Today, it's clearly wrong for a man to beat his wife, or for a man to beat his child for that matter. Yes, people still do it, but they are for the most part reviled. But 200 years ago, this was common. It was seen as normal - something you did out of love as long as you did it in the "right" way. As long as it was done in punishment for something, then no big deal. However, knowing this and being okay with reading a love story where the man beats his wife for disobeying are not the same thing. It's disturbing.

However, this isn't the most disturbing scene in the book. There's a graphic recollection of a rape scene that was sickening to read. I don't think a rape scene would ever be anything but disturbing on some level, but this just went too far. It was so gross, I just couldn't imagine someone actually doing that, or the author dreaming that up and actually writing it. If this happened early in the book, I would have probably have quit reading, but I was invested by this point and carried on.

I think it sounds like I'm being more negative toward the book than I actually feel. It's just easier in this case to pinpoint what I disliked than what I liked! But, I've already pulled the next book off my shelf on to the table by my reading chair, so I clearly liked it overall. I will say this is a lesson learned in buying books in a series before reading them though - I bought the first two during the closing sale Borders had. I doubt these will be books I'll re-read even though I did like this one, so I hate that I spent the money on them instead of just going to the library. I think that's something the TBR Challenge has taught me - quit buying so many dang books!!! :)

This is the seventh book I've read for Adam's Magical March. Just one more to go! I've already started 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and hope to finish it and maybe one more before the end of March.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes

This is yet another book I picked up at a library book sale years ago, and it has lingered sadly on my shelves once I realized it was by Ray Bradbury. I just liked the title and in the mad rush to grab cheap books by the bag full, I hadn't looked at it too closely. I'm glad I didn't, and that I finally read it because I really liked it!

A little background: I had to read Fahrenheit 451 my sophomore year of high school - when I had a teacher I called Mrs. Satan. She was seriously not right in the head. We spent probably two whole months on this short work. We had to find all of the allusions in it - I found over 400! And yet, I ended up with a C on the assignment because on a different assignment, we had to write about which character we identified with the most, and I picked someone who wouldn't have been able to come up with that many allusions, so I got Cs on both assignments!!! Oh, I was so angry. And clearly I'm still a little angry about it! Anyway, I reread it not that long ago, and I still didn't really enjoy it. I felt Bradbury's writing was a little weak and the story just wasn't really developed. So, I didn't have high hopes for Something Wicked this Way Comes.
But...I was so wrong! I ended up really enjoying it. It's about two 13-year-old boys who stumble upon the dark deeds happening at a creepy carnival and get mixed up in some crazy stuff, along with the dad of one of the boys. It kept me hooked and was a fast read - I read all but the first chapter in one day. I loved the descriptions and scenes in the library, about how the library takes you to far away lands and worlds and times. You get to become a warrior, a prince, a president and experience things you can't experience in real life.

One thing I found interesting was how much parts of the book reminded me of the movie Big. The stories overall are completely different, and the tone of this is much darker than Big, but I'm pretty sure whoever wrote Big must have read this and thought "I wonder what would happen if..." even if they did it subconsciously. Both have start with a creepy carnival scene at night, and both involve aging machines, and it was just something in the descriptions that made me keep thinking about Big.

Speaking of movies, as I was reading I kept thinking that this really seemed more like a movie. It was very easy to visualize each chapter as a scene, and the only rough parts in the writing were spots were I thought it would be easier to see the action play out on screen that to write out a description about it. Oddly enough, in the epilogue Bradbury says it was originally a screenplay (well, originally, it was a start to a short story) and that when that failed, he turned it in to a novel. He wrote the screenplay because Gene Kelly wanted him to write something he could play a role in - isn't that funny?

Liking this book makes me want to explore more of Bradbury's backlist. I think The Illustrated Man would be one I want to look into, because he plays a role in this book. Has anyone else read any of his other books? What do you recommend?

This is my sixth book in Adam's Magical March challenge!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Classics Club

A Classics Club hosted by one of my favorite bloggers? How could I resist! Want to join? Check out the info at Jillian's blog.

Here is my list of 50 classics I plan to read by April 1, 2014. A lot of people are doing 5-year lists, but I decided to just go with 50 in two years and then do another 50 or whatever amount at that time. I included a few recent works that may be disputable as classics, but I've noticed them on a few other lists and I'm lacking in my reading of contemporary classics compared to older classics, and I wanted this to help fill in some gaps, so I included them. I've created a new page to keep track of these, but also copied the list below.
  1. Ulysses by James Joyce
  2. Pendennis by Thackeray
  3. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  4. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
  5. Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
  6. Don Quixote by Cervantes
  7. War and Peace by Tolstoy
  8. Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky
  9. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
  10. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
  11. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  12. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
  13. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  14. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  15. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  16. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  17. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  18. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  19. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
  20. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  21. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
  22. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  23. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  24. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  25. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  26. An American Tragedy by Theodore Drieser
  27. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  28. The Golden Bowl by Henry James
  29. Howard's End by EM Forster
  30. Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence
  31. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  32. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  33. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  34. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  35. The Decameron by Boccaccio
  36. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  37. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
  38. Adam Bede by George Eliot
  39. The War of the Worlds by HG Wells
  40. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
  41. Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Sterne
  42. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  43. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  44. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  45. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  46. The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
  47. Walden by Thoreau
  48. The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler
  49. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  50. The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton

Monday, March 19, 2012

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

This is yet another post for Adam's Magical March challenge! I've also finished Something Wicked this Way Comes and will review it later in the week, and have just stared Outlander. I'm hoping to finish it, Dragonfly in Amber, The War of the Worlds and The Crystal Cave before the end of the month, but since two of those are quite chunky, that may not happen!

I picked up Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator at a library book sale at some point. I love both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movies, although I remember being a little disappointed by the actual book when I read it in elementary school. Still, I wanted to see what further adventures Charlie has.

Apparently, Charlie goes on to visit space, fight Vernicious Knids, deal with three of his grandparents take reverse aging vitamins will nasty consequences and head off to the White House. Seriously, what the heck? That makes no sense! It kind of felt like a book for kids with ADD.

I have a confession to make here - I have yet to read a Roald Dahl book that I actually liked. I feel like a terrible person and that I should have be "I'm a reader!" card revoked or something. But I just don't care for his books. Now, I like nonsense stories and silly tales and slightly creepy kids books. I enjoy Dr. Suess and Shel Silverstein and Lewis Carroll and many others, but I guess when you think about it, those aren't nonsense stories. They all have a point. And I suppose Dahl does as well - you can't turn back time - but only part of the book is about that and the rest of it was just random. I felt like I was watching Spongebob or something. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory clearly has several points, so I suppose it's not the nonsense angle that bothers me about his books as a whole. I just can't quite put my finger on it. The other books of his I've read (all when I was a child) were Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and The BFG. Matilda was my favorite, but I still didn't really care for it. I'm usually a sucker for books with readers in them, and this seems like something I would love, but I just didn't. It just makes me a little sad. Oh well, I have a beloved movie because of him (even if he wasn't happy with it!)!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Hunger Games

Although these fit the theme of Magical March, these are a reread and don't count toward that particular challenge. I wanted to read them in anticipation of the movie coming out Friday (woohoo!) and because I went to a Hunger Games party over the weekend. Because I am awesome and have some great nerdy friends. :) I somehow managed to not take any photos, but I went as Effie and Ryan went as Haymitch and we both won the Tribute challenge we played. Go us!

On to the books - I still loved them this time around. I'm a sucker for dystopian fiction in general and there are so many aspects of this trilogy to enjoy. The statements about focusing so much on bad entertainment like reality shows and going overboard with fashion and looks to the point where you lose your humanity. Katniss. I love her attitude, problem with authority, strength and will. The fact that the love story is clearly secondary in the story - who has time for love when you're fighting a war and don't know if you'll survive? The idea of reaching a point where enough is enough and rising up to take back your government. Fighting for what you believe in.

One of the fun things they had a the party was a map of Panem. Most locations aren't clearly described in the books so I have no idea how someone came up with this and it's clearly not going to be accurate to what Collins had in mind, but I thought it was fun. Plus, it has Oklahoma in District 4 and Texas almost completely underwater, so it's awesome in my book! :)  

One thing that I think is interesting is that I tend to rewrite the ending of the series in the same way I do for the end of Little Women. I know that both end a certain way, but if you ask me about them out of the blue I would think of my fake endings before the real ones and it would take me a minute to remember that's not right and to convince myself of the real ending. Despite that, I do love these books and highly recommend them if you haven't read them yet!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I, Robot

I'm halfway to my goal for Adam's Magical March, finishing my fourth book up today! My goal is 8 books, although I'm hoping to hit 10 since I've read a few young adult books. Even though they count, it feels a little like cheating. I read my first book by Isaac Asimov - I, Robot.
I wish I could have experienced this book back in 1950. The idea of AI and humanoid robots is commonplace today, but must have sounded crazy back then. Because we have so many books and movies with the same ideas and themes about AI robots or machines being more human than humans or taking over the world, I know the book didn't make the same impression on me that it would have to someone encountering those ideas for the first time.
As a result, I thought the book was a bit lacking. It didn't really have anything to get me hooked and stay engaged. I also thought it was disjointed, but I later learned it is actually nine short stories formed into a novel, not a novel in of itself. I wish I had realized that going in, because I kept expecting the story to be more about Susan Calvin, the unifying presence of the stories, and for the stories to have more of a connection. Instead, they just seemed like random stories about robots and humanity, which is what they actually are supposed to be. I guess this is one instance where not reading about the work beforehand failed me.
I, Robot did make me want to rewatch Battlestar Gallatica though, since it has so much focus on the machines having human-like emotions and responses, and being better than humans because they don't have the same weaknesses humans have, and also has a case of not being able to tell if someone is human or robot. Hello Cylons! Again, if I hadn't watched Battlestar Gallatica and developed a sympathy for toasters, I would probably have been more surprised by the story where you aren't sure if one of the characters is human or robot. How strange must that have seemed in 1950 though?
The other odd thing in the book was that Susan Calvin was born one year after me, in this future world where we have robot nannies by the time I would have graduated from high school. That makes me feel old! He was imagining this crazy future that's now in my past. His future had highly intelligent robots that you could trust your child with, but not personal computers or smart phones, which is kind of funny.
Overall, I'm glad I read this since it's the foundation of modern science fiction, but I'm not sure that it convinced me to read any of Asimov's other works, although I have heard good things about his Foundation trilogy, so we'll see.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Messenger

I hate that it's been a week since I last posted! I've been swamped at work, have had various other things to do and have been reading, but I'm behind in blogging and reading and commenting on others' blogs! I'll hopefully rectify that later this week. For now, here's my third post for Adam's Magical March!

If you grew up in the 90s, chances are you read The Giver in school at some point. This book sparked more debate in my eighth grade English class than any other book discussion I've been part of - and I have my MA in English lit! My class nearly came to blows over the end of the book - what happens to Jonah? Well, if you want to find out, read The Messenger.

Lois Lowry followed up The Giver with Gathering Blue and The Messenger, neither of which were out when I read The Giver in high school. I read Gathering Blue a few years ago and was somewhat disappointed - there seemed to be no real connection to The Giver. That changes with The Messenger. The worlds of both The Giver and Gathering Blue unite in The Messenger. I wish I had realized that before reading The Messenger - I would have gone back and reread the other two books to have them fresher in my mind. I assumed it was just loosely connected, more of a book with the same themes than a true sequel. I was wrong: we find out what happened to Jonah!!!

Before I get to that though, I just wanted to say a few things about the book itself. It's not nearly as strong as The Giver, although The Giver is so wonderful that's perhaps not a far comparison. It's still good, but it feels rushed. The pacing is good until the end, and then it just felt like a million things happened in two pages and that's it.

I'm also not quite sure how I feel about knowing what happened to Jonah. It was almost sweeter not knowing. Plus, I imagine English teachers feeling frustrated about this ruining the discussion about the ending of The Giver, because now the answer is out there! I won't spoil it here for you, but I will say my eighth-grade self was right. :) Take that everyone who disagreed with me!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale

I'm not entirely sure I can write a coherent review of The Handmaid's Tale. All I seem capable of is "OMG! Awesomeness! I want to read all of Atwood's works NOW! Why oh why has this lingered unread on my shelves for over 10 YEARS?!?! What's wrong with me???"

In case you can't tell, I loved this! This makes me so happy, because the last three speculative fictions works I've read I ended up disliking so much I didn't even finish them. And I'm usually a bit OCD about finishing books if I start them. Until about a year ago, there were only three books I had started on not finished (She's Come Undone, Invisible Man, and The Killer Angels - all in high school). I'm happy I've managed to stop obsessively making myself finish books I'm not enjoying, but I was starting to think I just didn't like speculative fiction anymore and made me sad.

The three books I had problems with are all very popular with book bloggers: The Magicians, Howl's Moving Castle, and Game of Thrones. I really expected to like all of these. Bloggers with normally similar tastes to me liked them. They aren't out of my comfort realm. But, I just thought the writing on all of these was awful! I feel like I've been really picky with writing lately. I think maybe I'm reading too many classics and literary fiction with beautiful writing and it's changed how I read. I don't like feeling snobby or missing good stories because of this though, but none of the stories were pulling me in. I got more than halfway through The Magicians and Howl's Moving Castle and just didn't care what happened. In The Magicians, I was actually starting to wish bad things upon the characters! In Game of Thrones, I made it about 60 pages and just wanted to cry at the thought of finishing it.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a post about The Handmaid's Tale. I couldn't help comparing it to the three works above, however unfair that may be. The language was lush and lyrical without being overdone. She hit all the right notes, telling just enough to keep you moving forward, curious, anxious, right up until the last page. She leaves you wanting more - what happened??? It's one of those stories where you really want a sequel, but that would ruin everything.

I think this work was terrifying because something like this happening isn't completely out of the realm of possibility. It's unlikely, but think about things that happened in Nazi Germany or the USSR or under Mao - all of these were civilized countries where essentially a dictator was able to take over and do horrendous things. The government - left and right - has been taking away our freedoms for years and most people do nothing. Who's to say it wouldn't happen here?

The duties of Offred in the book are especially scary to me. I would rather be tortured than be forced to have sex with a man with his wife there and have my whole purpose in life be to provide them with a child!!! It's awful! It gives me chills. Why is in dystopian novels women almost always are reduced to baby-making machines? Perhaps reading too many of these books as a young adult are part of the reason why I don't want kids! :)

I'm so happy to have finally read this book, which is the second book I've finished for Adam's Magical March. And I'm happy Atwood has written quite a few books for me to read in the future! It's nice to discover a new-to-me author with a good backlist.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Uncle Tom's Cabin

When I started Uncle Tom's Cabin, I was not impressed, to say the least. If I hadn't had a few people tell me to keep reading and read Jean's post on it, I may have given up. I'm happy to say that I finished it - and ended up liking it.

All of the things I complained about were still issues throughout, although her writing is definitely better in some sections than others. It's like she has all of Dickens' faults magnified by 10 - out of nowhere coincidences, extreme overuse of adjectives, inserting herself into the narrative, bad pacing, caricatured characters, and endless preaching. Don't get me wrong, I love Dickens and while he does those things to a small extent, it's nowhere near as bad as Stowe and his works are strong enough in other areas to compensate. I know the book did astonishingly well, but I still think it would have been better if she'd written more like Dickens and toned down some of the faults a bit or had a better editor. It definitely felt more like a propaganda piece thinly disguised as a novel than a novel with a moral and call to action.

That said, this is still a work worth reading for its historical significance. It heated up the debate about slavery and surely opened many people's eyes - in both the North and the South. She lays into both sides. Southerners, more obviously, for their continued use of slavery, no matter how kind the masters may be. For the North, she lays into them for not doing enough to fight slavery or to help free men. What is the purpose of freeing the slaves if they can't find jobs, go to school, vote, or anything else? Racism was just making it easier for the South to cling to slavery by arguing that their slaves would be better off as slaves than free men in the North, which on a physical comfort level, was true in some cases.

Stowe particularly lays into Christians for standing by and doing nothing, or talking about ending slavery but not being willing to welcome a black person into their homes or educate them or hire them. Christians would send money off to fund missionaries to Africa, but wouldn't help the blacks in their own cities.

One thing Stowe obviously does well is stir up emotion. You can't read this and not react, not feel for these people and their real-life counterparts. The break up of families is especially heartbreaking. I can't imagine being ripped away from Ryan that way and sold off, possibly being forced to take another husband or fulfill the desires of my master. I just realized the next book I'm planning on reading is The Handmaid's Tale, which is sort of about the same thing in a completely different society. That should make for an interesting comparison.

One of the many problems I had with the book was that I loved Eliza, and we go so long without finding out what happens to her! That was so frustrating, because poor Tom just wasn't as interesting to read about, not until the very end. I think he was just too good - rebellion is more entertaining to read about I suppose. Don't get me wrong - I felt horrible for him and would have loved to have rescued him or just given him a hug, but the other characters were more alive in a sense than he, or maybe they were just more relatable.

I also loved dear little Eva and the younger Master George. Stowe does a good job of portraying the issue through the eyes of innocent children, who see right and wrong much more clearly than most of the adults. The story also did pick up and made me want to see what happens to everyone, and I managed to finish it quickly despite all of the sermons she injects.

I don't want to harp too much more on the writing style problems, but my edition has a few excerpts from reviews at the time and I thought this part from North American Review was quite funny: "Whatever may be the literary merits of Uncle Tom, they do not account for its success. It exhibits by no means the highest order of genius or skill. It is not to be named in comparison with the novels of Scott or Dickens; and in regard to variety of knowledge, eloquence, imaginative power, and spirited deleations of life and character, manners and events, it is inferior even to those of Bulwer, or Currer Bell, or Hawthorne."

How hilarious is it that this reviewer says it's inferior even to Charlotte Bronte or Nathaniel Hawthorne! As though they are rather inferior writers to begin with, and Stowe is so bad she can't even compare to them! I couldn't help but laugh. It's also funny that he ranks Scott above them as well, and I think most people today would rate Bronte and Hawthorne above him. How tastes and standards change!

There is also a bit from Dickens himself, saying how much he liked the work, but feels she went a bit too far and tries to prove too much, which sort of sums up my own feelings. I would recommend the book to other people though, and think it is an important book to read solely for its history.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Wizard of Oz

Magical March has just begun and I've already managed to finish my first book! Woohoo! Adam at Roof Beam Reader is hosting Magical March, and I signed up for the highest level - 8+ books! Since I'm still trying to wrap up Uncle Tom's Cabin from last month's reading, I decided to go with something light while I finish that up, and so I started with The Wizard of Oz.

It's strange to me that I'd never read any of the Oz books. I think part of the reason is that I know one time when I looked for them at a bookstore long ago, they didn't carry them, and the library didn't have them, and this was in the dark ages pre-Amazon and easy online ordering so I must have just given up. Now I have the whole collection on my Nook, although I read this story in a hard copy I picked up somewhere along the way.

I LOVE the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, and I saw a musical version in the West End in London on my 30th birthday this past November and adored the performance. After seeing the movie for the first time when I was just 4 or 5, my aunt made the mistake of asking me what it was about and I apparently reenacted the whole movie for her. :) So, even though, books are usually better than movies, I was a bit hesitant over this one. I knew I'd be picturing the movie and stage performance the whole time. And I was - most of the time anyway.

However, that didn't stop me from enjoying it. It was great to see old friends and read about their adventures. There were quite a few differences, primarily of things that happen in the book that don't make the movie even though it's a slim little book.

Here are a few of the differences that stuck out most to me:
  • There are no songs! I knew most of these were probably added for the movie, but I was surprised there was no greeting from the munchkins or "Follow the Yellow Brick Road."
  • The ruby slippers are silver!!! This was actually familiar to me. I think that there was something about this in the Smithsonian describing the display with the ruby slippers from the movie. They wanted to show off technicolor.
  • Dorothy doesn't say "There's no place like at home" at the end. She says "Take me home to Aunt Em!" Not nearly as catchy. 
  • There's a wonderful back story about the Tin Man and how he used to be human, although it's a bit grotesque as the Wicked Witch causes him to cut off all of his body parts until he's made entirely of tin. It sort of reminded me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. "It's only a flesh wound!" 
  • Glinda is the Good Witch from the South, not the North. She's not the same as the Good Witch from the North that appears at the beginning. (Side note: The Glinda in the West End performance had the most spectacular dress ever. Seriously. That thing was nothing but bling. It was like she was wearing a million glittering diamonds in a swishy dress form. I want to wear that thing just once!)
  • The Wizard fools people through ventriloquism, acting, and puppetry, not sound and technology effects, which I suppose wouldn't have been invented yet. 
  • The group goes on many adventures that don't make it in to the movie - they deal with mice, Winkies, half bear half tiger creatures, and others. 
  • They visit a literal chinatown, where everything is made of china - including the people and animals. If they are taking to the real world, they freeze, turning into dolls. 
  • The Emerald City is emerald because everyone wears green glasses. 
  • The opening is very short - there's no evil neighbor trying to get Toto.
  • The Winged Monkeys get a backstory too, and have way more depth than in the movie/play.
  • There are no uncles, which is a good thing, because I hate how the movie makes it all seem like a dream. It wasn't a dream. It totally happened! 
Even though I'm listing out the differences, one way wasn't better than the other. I still enjoyed the book, and I'm excited about reading the rest of the series. I think one of the things I loved most about the movie when I was younger was that Kansas and tornadoes were familiar - I'm from Oklahoma. This was a girl from my neck of the woods having these types of adventures, not someone in faraway London, which already seemed magical to me, discovering a magic wardrobe or some entirely fictional world. If Dorothy could go there, surely there is hope for me, right? I'm glad it still holds the same charm as an adult.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Suppliants

I planned to read Herodutus' Histories this month as part of Jean's Greek Classics Challenge. That didn't happen! I do hope to read it this year still, but instead I've kept trying to work my way through Eurpides' plays.

The Suppliants is about a group of grieving mothers who lost their sons in the battle of seven against Thebes, which is the topic of Aeschylus' aptly named play Seven Against Thebes. I think it helped that I had read that play before and at least had a vague idea of what happened and some of the major plays even though I didn't remember most of the details. This play kind of assumes you already have that knowledge, which you would have if you were a Greek playgoer back then.

The mothers go to Theseus for his help in getting their sons' bodies back, which he does.  He even goes as far as to prepare the bodies for burial himself, which was a great honor. It was extremely important to the Greeks to have a proper burial as they believed that affected the afterlife.

One of the things that stuck out to me the most from this play is the idea that we should look to the gods for the answers and not try to take over their roles, yet the play had much less influence and presence of the gods than many other Greek tragedies. For example, Theseus says "Are we not then too proud, when heaven hath made such preparation for our life, not to be content therewith? But our presumption seeks to lord it over heaven, and in the pride of our hearts we think we are wiser than the gods."

I found this striking, because it seemed to me that while Theseus says this, he then relies on his own wisdom and the people of Athens to make a decision, without calling on the gods. (Unless I overlooked that, which is entirely possible.) Only at the very end of the play does Athena make an appearance, and it's not to interfere. I know Euripides as a whole uses the gods much less in his plays than Aeschylus or Sophocles, so I wonder if this was a way of ironically saying we are wiser than the gods? After all, the Greek gods weren't exactly the infalliable, moral paragon God of the Judeo-Christian world, so who is to say that the gods were smarter than the humans? Or maybe it's just an example of "do what I say, not what I do," but even if I don't quite know for sure what he was trying to say, it gave me something to think about about and I enjoyed his play as a whole.